PITTSBURGH (AP) – As basketball players Aaron Jackson and Stephen Wood lay helpless in front of a Duquesne University dormitory, bullet after bullet flew by them – and the same thought crossed each of their minds.

“It seemed like the bullets never stopped coming,” Jackson said Monday, absent-mindedly rubbing the left wrist that was grazed by one of the bullets.

“They kept coming, constantly,” Wood said.

Five Duquesne players were struck by those bullets early Sunday morning by an unidentified shooter or shooters that injured nearly half of the team’s scholarship athletes – a blow unparalleled in any NCAA Division I basketball program.

On Monday, three players remained hospitalized. Junior-college transfer forward Sam Ashaolu, 23, of Toronto, a cousin of former Houston Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon, was in critical condition, his life in danger, after a bullet shattered and separated into three sections of his head.

Stuard Baldonado, 21, a 6-foot-7 forward and another junior college transfer, of Colombia, was upgraded to fair condition with left arm and back injuries.

He was told by surgeons that a bullet missed his spinal column – which would almost certainly cause paralysis – by one-quarter of an inch before lodging in a lower back muscle. Junior guard Kojo Mensah, 21, of New York City, who was shot in the arm and shoulder, was kept in the hospital for another night to receive injections of antibiotics.

Jackson, 20, of Hartford, Conn., and Shawn James, 23, of New York City were treated and released. James was the nation’s leading shot blocker last season at Northeastern University in Boston before he transferred to Duquesne.

In interviews Monday with The Associated Press, several players said the shootings apparently resulted from an act of jealousy by a non-student unhappy that the girlfriend he accompanied to a dance, sponsored by the Black Student Union, talked with a player or players for the Dukes.

“We didn’t have any conflict at all,” said Wood, a freshman who left New York City to play at Duquesne partly to live on what traditionally is considered a safe campus. “We were just having a good time. There was jealousy because girls were showing us attention.”

The players were followed by the disgruntled non-student and at least one of his acquaintances when they left the dance, they said, and the shootings happened as the players walked together toward the dormitory. Mensah, Ashaolu and Baldonado were the first to be hit; James was wounded on the foot but escaped by running across the nearby football field.

Wood, who was not struck, said he saw Baldonado bleeding badly from his left arm and quickly took off his own shirt and applied a tourniquet.

“I turned away, and saw Stu on the floor, and my first reaction was to take my shirt off and try to stop the bleeding,” Wood said. “Then I turned around and I saw Sam laying there.”

Mensah, struck himself, aided several players by helping to barricade them behind a steel door. Jackson lifted the 250-pound Baldonado on his back, carried him to his car and drove him to nearby Mercy Hospital.

“He was real heavy,” Jackson said. “He’s the strongest guy I’ve ever met. But when he passed out on me in the car, man, that really (was bad).”

Jackson and Wood downplayed their roles, saying they didn’t consider themselves heroes.

“We didn’t think about this, or to do that,” Jackson said. “You think, “Oh, that’s my man, we’re going to look out for him.”‘

“They would do the same thing for us, if it were the other way around,” Wood said.

Baldonado, the most promising of the Dukes’ 10 recruits, likely won’t play this season because his back injury will need two to three months of rehabilitation. He is expected to be released from Mercy Hospital by the end of the week.

The bullet lodged in his lower back muscle is expected to be surgically removed Tuesday. Baldonado also was shot in the left arm, and doctors transplanted a vein from his groin to that arm during reconstructive surgery. The former Miami Dade player also has slightly less strength in one thumb than another, possibly because of nerve damage that normally heals itself.

“I’m lucky,” he said Monday.

Coach Ron Everhart was trying not to think about how the shootings would affect his program, saying “our biggest concern is for the players and their families.” But athletic director Greg Amodio was optimistic the incident would not hurt the program’s image or recruiting.

“If I were a player, these are the kind of guys I would want to be playing with if I were on a college basketball team,” he said.

AP-ES-09-18-06 2133EDT

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